Saturday, July 01, 2006


Wow! How can I pass up this offer, which I found today in my unfutz mailbox:
Subject: want to meet?

Do not ignoreb me please,
I found yourb email somewhere and now decided to write you.
I am coming to your place in few weeks and thoubght we
can meet each other. Laet me know if you do not mindb.
I am a nice pretty girl. Don't reply to this email.
Email me direclty at

I really marvel sometimes: who the heck falls for this stuff? Is the entire spam/scam industry built on the stupidity and naivete of the great American surfing public?

I guess so -- if you add avarice to the list.

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/01/2006 07:39:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


They don't get it (episode #3742)

Constitutionally, each branch of the Federal government exists to hamper the power of the other branches to act -- we call it "checks and balances." Also any guaranteed civil rights will, by definition, hamper the government's ability to act. This is intentional, it's the entire point of the Bill of Rights.

Very few Republicans in Washington seem to understand this, and too damned few Democrats.

After the launch of Sputnik, it was perceived that we were falling behind the Russians in science, and our science education efforts were beefed up. Do you think that after the Bush administration and the political hegemony of the Republican party in the Federal government, there will be a similar perception about the teaching of civics (which we called "social studies" when I was in high school)? It's clear that practically no one in the Bush-Cheney regime or in the Republican Congress understands how our Federal government is intended to work (or cares about it), which could be seen as a massive educational failure.

Could better education trump ideology?

We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens.
Sandra Day O'Connor
Opinion, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004)

(Of course, Bush & Co. are just as ignorant about the proper role of the Court as they are about the proper role of Congress -- or, for that matter, the proper role of the Executive.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 7/01/2006 02:17:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, June 30, 2006

Two sizes too small

Scientists may have found empathy in mice.

Perhaps they should use the same techniques to look for it in the Bush administration.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 11:25:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Bad ad

The TV commercial shows green numbers going rapidly up, as if on the readout of a gas pump: $30 ... $31 ... $32 ... $33 ... The voiceover wants us to know that with gas prices what they are, the Honda Pilot LX is the most fuel-efficient 8-passenger SUV. He doesn't say what that means, but the numbers are there on the screen: the Pilot gets 17 miles per gallon in city driving, and 22 mpg on the highway.

In actuality, while the claim may be true as stated, those numbers aren't all that good, considering that the car with the best gas mileage, the Honda Insight, gets 60 mpg in the city and 66 mpg on the highway, and the SUV with the best gas mileage is the Scion xB, which gets 30 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.

It's interesting (and predictable) that automobile manufacturers have started trying to appeal to consumers' sense of price shock at the pumps, but do they have to mislead people this way?

Yeah, I suppose they do.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 10:32:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Getting it done

DarkSyde has an interesting "Science Friday" dKos post about the increased melting of the glaciers in Greenland and what it means. What struck me, aside from the potential problems that could be caused by a rise in sea level, was the conclusion:
Government sponsored research into alternative energy and greater fuel efficiency might just pay off in every way imaginable, even if the climate change worries are totally off the mark! Does it make sense to allow our entire economic fate to be held in the ruthless palm of the House of Saud and the bin Laden family, protecting their profits and keeping a tenuous hold on dwindling, finite supplies of oil half a world away with the blood of our youth and the treasure of our nation? Or might it make sense to lead the world in new technology and create jobs at home using a proven fusion of science, business, and policy? The former means preserving the status quo---along with permanent bases in Iraq and elsewhere for the next fifty years. More of the grim tragedy, never-ending expense, and unpredictable chaos we've seen far too much of for the last three years. The latter approach took us from Explorer 1 to the Sea of Tranquility in a decade.

The United States is, if anything, a science and technology nation. We can lick climate change and solve a bunch of other problems, if we make it a priority. And, if the party in power throws their arms up in the air whining "we can't", then maybe it's time for We the People to elect some leaders who can.

That's exactly right. Somewhere in the American character, suppressed and ignored, lurks the "Can Do" attitude that's gotten us through so many crises in the past, and the party that taps into that and convinces the people that the right approach is not to ignore problems, or try to define them away through ideological sleight-of-hand, or to go at them like a bull in a china shop with no sense of what the problem is and what a properly measured solution to it would be, that party is going to prevail in the long run, and that party has a chance to actually save us from the worst excesses of our worst citizens.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 09:22:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Uncaring, unfeeling, inhumane

Bob Park:
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease. By protecting against four strains, Gardisil prevents most cervical cancer. The vaccine is expensive, however, and the disease is most prevalent among the poor. Still, vaccinating girls from 11-18 would cost less than the flight of Discovery. The recommendation was unanimous, but the vote to make Plan B available over the counter was also overwhelming. Why would anyone object? "Because," a spokesperson for Focus on the Family snarled, "You don't catch it, you have to go out and get it."

Here is yet another reason to despise the religious right: they'd prefer that young girls contract a STD and potentially develop and die from cervical cancer rather than vaccinate against it, because the vaccination somehow implies approval of pre-marital sex. Not only is the logic suspect, the lack of empathy is monstrous. This is the kind of thing you descend to when you put ideology over rationality.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 05:00:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Explaining it all

August J. Pollak has a list worth looking at, since it explains what is and isn't putting our soliders in harm's way. Guess I owe Congress an apology!

[via The Green Knight]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 05:55:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


On being anti-war

Mike the Mad Biologist believes that
no civilized person should be 'pro-war'--the logical converse of 'anti-war'. [...] we should never send our fellow citizens off to die unless we are damn certain there is no other alternative. [...] national security should not be a political strategy, but a solemn duty.

I think he's correct that morality demands that we all be essentially "anti-war" (even many military people would agree), but a problem arises when people take a dogmatic absolutist anti-war position. There is such a thing as a necessary war, and a justified war, but some folks will not accept even these as legitimate exceptions to their automatic and unbending anti-war dogma.

That being said, this dirty little war we've got going now is, of course, both unnecessary and unjustified, but -- unlike Atrios, for instance -- I don't think it's the case that people who opposed the invasion of Iraq from day zero because of their absolutist anti-war ideology are in some way morally superior to those of us who came to that conclusion eventually (but well before the launching of hostilities) after close examination of all the available facts.

In fact, isn't doing proper due diligence before deciding what to think a better moral, social and political philosophy than relying on unchanging hard-and-fast rules? I'd say so.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 05:36:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A different pill pushed

Here's the logical outcome of pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions on moral grounds, a pharmacist attempting to override a doctor's prescription and replace one medication with a non-equivalent one. Tara Smith of Aetiology tells the story:
A relative just had surgery to remove a lump in her breast. Her doctor sent her home with a scrip for Vicodin, which she sent her husband off to fill at the local pharmacy. They refused to give out the drug, sending him home instead with a codeine-containing drug. She's allergic to codeine, so she sent the husband back to the pharmacy to get the Vicodin as prescribed. They sent him home, telling him the drug didn't contain any codeine. She sent him back, with the codeine ingredient circled (I wish I could think of the brand name of the drug, but it's not coming to me). This time, they sent him home empty-handed, saying she needed to have her doctor call the pharmacy and confirm her codeine allergy before they would fill the prescription for Vicodin. By this time, it was after 5PM and her doctor was out of the office, and she didn't have any emergency numbers to call, so she just took aspirin last night and dealt with the pain.

This behavior is inexcusable. If the pharmacist thinks there's something suspicious about the prescription, he or she should call the doctor and verify it, not substitute another drug. If the prescription is legit, the pharmacist has an obligation to fill it -- that would seem like a basic thing, but you'd never know it from the American Pharmaceutical Association's Code of Ethics [PDF], which is full of both well-meaning politicial correctness and behavioral loopholes large enough for armies of dissenting pharmacists to roller skate through.

Addenda: Responsibiltiies of a pharmacist. [via Neurotopia]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/30/2006 04:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, June 29, 2006


Major flooding along the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers -- the purple points are river gauges which indicate major flooding. Red is moderate flooding, orange in minor flooding, yellow means the river is near flood stage, and green means no flooding.

You can see the two originals of this combined map here and here, and the national river gauge map is here.

To get a sense of the extent of the flood, at Easton, PA, for example, at 5:30am the Delaware was at 36.07 feet, which is over 14 feet above flood stage, but below the record stage of 43.7 feet from August 19, 1955. Its current height is the sixth highest measured.

Below are some pictures from flooding elsewhere -- click on the Reuters link for more.

(It's a good thing that this is the kind of disaster that can generally be handled by states directly, with only an infusion of Federal cash from being declared a disaster area. Imagine what would happen if we had to rely on Bush's FEMA.)

Carrs CreekCarrs Creek

Scenes of flooding from where Carrs Creek cut through I-88 north of Binghamton, NY [Reuters]

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 06:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A photo I like

I found this photo on a semi-porn site, Taxi Driver, which seems to specialize in accidentally risque candid photographs of women who are apparently well-known to somebody, if not to me. The reason it posted this one, which is captioned as being of Keira Knightly (whoever she is), is probably obvious, but I'm just really taken with the look of the picture, which is why I'm posting it here. I can't tell if the effect was deliberately done or an accidental artefact (since there's a second photo here that's similar, I suspect the former), but I like it very much.

(There's no photographer credited on the site, or else I'd pass it along. If anyone has any information, I'd be glad of it.)

P.S.: No, this is not a shameless attempt to drive up my circulation, although the idea's not indefensible... Politics and porn, hmmmm.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 03:43:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Slavery's progeny?

On Panda's Thumb, Matt Young posits that creationism (a primarily American phenomenon among Western nations) is a legacy of American slavery. I don't think the idea holds much water, but the discussion in the comments thread is interesting.

Related: A short history of Christian Fundamentalism.

Also, Wesley Elseberry and Ed Brayton on the next creationist trial.

More: Mike Argento is the columnist for the York Daily Record who wrote such hard-hitting pieces about the Kitzmiller trial. Now, he's taken on Ann Coulter, whose latest screed has a large section condemning evolution and supporting creationism, and you just have to love how he starts:
There is an irony buried deep under the vitriol, idiocy, slander, vileness, ignorance, stupidity and simply breathtaking inanity that passes for the contribution to the public discourse of an alleged carbon-based life-form that goes by the name of Ann Coulter.

Of course, you've heard about this vile life-support system for a mane of blonde hair. She's been all over the media, spreading her poison, the vaguely human counterpart of a Gila monster, except with colder blood. It's amusing that one of her complaints about what she calls the liberal media establishment is that it gives short-shrift to morons like herself who seek airtime to inflict a toxic stew of idiocies masquerading as ideas upon an unsuspecting public.

The rest is just as good -- go read it.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 02:47:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Let Congress have a ball!

Since Congress has worked so hard at making itself irrelevant, I'm thinking I should utilize them to get some absurd laws of my own pushed through. For instance, I propose that a law be passed to make it illegal for television baseball announcers (both play-by-play and color) from indulging in conversations during blow-out games giving their opinions about (A) the DH rule, (B) anything to do with the All-Star Game (fan voting, World Series field advantage, etc.) and, most importantly, (C) politics, broadly (very broadly) defined.

Furthermore, this new and exciting law would forbid any major league team or television network from allowing the crook and felon Michael Milken into the broadcast booth for any reason whatsoever.

Also, announcers would be disallowed from waxing poetic about the out-of-town city the team is playing in at that moment -- hey, suckers, we live here, where the team is, and you don't like living here give up your fucking salary and go live somewhere else.

I think Congress would have a fine old time debating this law, and it would add immeasurably to their efforts to make themselves totally irrelevant.

Just barely related: Recently, Kos complained about baseball's blackout rules, which are, as he says, idiotic. It should be noted that MLB is only able to carve out protected territories for each franchise because of its peculiar Supreme Court-created exemption from anti-trust laws. (More on that here and here.)

Oliver Wendell Holmes really screwed up on that one.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 02:10:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A question

Hey, remember back in the Clinton Administration, when the Republicans took over Congress, and had all the supposedly good ideas (they were ideas, all right, but most people without a journalism degree could see that they weren't particularly good ideas), and Bill was reduced to arguing that the Presidency was still relevant? Remember that? (Good times.)

Well, with the Congress engaged in all this really bizarre time-wasting and irrelevant stuff -- debating flag burning, and demonizing immigrants, and defending the sanctity of marriage (but not really), and finding WMDs where there aren't any, and fulminating that the New York Times is treasonous (but not, for some reason, the L.A. Times or the Wall Street Journal), and protecting the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, and so forth and so on -- why is it that we're not hearing from our journalist-protectors that Congress has become irrelevant?

I mean, this Republican-controlled legislature has worked absurdly hard at making themselves eminently dispensable -- by kowtowing to Bush whenever possible, by not seriously pursuing active oversight of the administration, by acquiescing to Bush's various power grabs and illegal and unconstitutional actions -- so it seems positively unfriendly of the media not to indulge them by making it official, dontcha think?

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 01:50:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Just to be clear...

[updated below]

I'm a Democrat, and a secularist, and an atheist, and I don't hate God.

After all, it's pretty darn hard to hate someone (something?) that doesn't exist.

Nor do I hate those who believe in God -- that they do is their private business and none of my own. I don't try to force them not to believe, and they don't try to force me to... AH! So we see the problem. It's not my belief or lack of belief, or theirs, it's the unwillingness of some religionists (only some) to leave me well enough alone. They are determined not only to proselytize, but also to use the power of government to force religious beliefs on people who don't want them, including people who hold different religious beliefs.

And that's why the separation of church and state is actually as important for religionists as it is for skeptics and secularists such as myself, because it prevents any one of the many religions from using the tremendous power of government to suppress other faiths. Liberal religionists understand this, but it's amazing that fundamentalists and evangelicals (who don't agree with each other on many issues) don't get it.

But, then, they also don't get that they're being used by the Republicans, so I guess it's not surprising that they continue to think that getting rid of the separation of church and state is a good thing.

So, this is all by way of leading up to saying that I agree with the criticism of Barack Obama, and that Nathan Newman's apparently got some kind of problem with reading comprehension. There are many ways (for instance) that Obama could have forcefully made his point without undermining Democrats and reinforcing Republican-framed stereotypes, and he'd be well advised to use them the next time he's looking to build bridges to the religious right.

I guess I'm going to have to think about rethinking my enthusiasm for Obama, kindled by his excellent speech at the Democratic convention in 2004. But I don't hate him, and I don't hate God.

(I do, however, hate Pat Robertson and James Dobson and their ilk. Just to be clear.)

Update: Mike Dunford at Questionable Authority has more, as does Echidne.

Also, PZ Myers dares to reveal the dirty secret many (most?) atheists avoid talking about in order to get along in contemporary American society, that a scientific worldview promotes godlessness. That doesn't mean, of course, that many scientists and scientifically-minded people aren't also devout religionists, and are able to contain or ignore the cognitive dissonance that combination entails (if they're even aware of it), so it's still basically true that accepting science doesn't force one to embrace atheism -- things just make more sense that way.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 01:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


We have no choice

Chris Bowers has the only reasonable and intelligent reaction to the Supreme Court decision on the DeLay Texas redistricting -- let's draw us some maps:
We have a pretty good chance to take the trifecta this year in California, Colorado, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. We already have the trifecta in Illinois. After the 2006 elections, Democrats need the guts to wake up and realize that the public will not revolt in the face of Republican power grabs, and that Republicans will not play nice because we decide to do so. Redrawing the maps in those states will make it all but impossible for Republicans to hold the House after the 2006 elections. Further, we can take out several committee chairs and even the Speaker of the House out in so doing. If these are the tactics Republicans want to use, and if their Supreme Court say these tactics are legal, then its time we use these tactics to decapitate the most of Republican leadership. Let's see them whine and squirm when their own strategies are used against them. Failure to do so is a failure to fight the conservative movement's long march toward theocracy and totalitarianism. [Emphasis added. -- Ed]

I heartily and totally agree, without reservation: now that redrawing districts for partisan purposes has been determined to be legal and legitimate, Democrats must redraw those states they control to our advantage wheneever and wherever possible, as often as is helpful to us. To not do this would be pure political irresponsibility, the equivalent of a corporation's management not upholding their fiduciary responsibility.

In matters not a whit if we disagree, philosophically, with the practice, it's now an available weapon, and you can be damn sure the Republicans will continue to use it against us to maintain their hold on power. If we're serious about taking them down (and we damned well better be, because they're fucking up the country royally every day they run things), we have no choice, we must bite the bullet, hold our noses, and ruthlessly use the tool that's been provided us. Only fools would avoid doing so now.

(Granted, this Supreme Court has the potential to do a Bush v Gore and change their minds 180 degrees when it's a Democratic redistricting that's at issue instead of one which helps Republicans, but if that's the case we've lost nothing by doing the redrawing.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 12:56:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The bully in the pulpit

Via Kevin Drum, Ron Suskind has some insight into Bush's (lack of) character.

How nice to have a bully in the White House.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/29/2006 12:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

From the political to the personal

Just look at what we’ve seen just in the past few days. First, we’ve witnessed a wide swath of the right-wing blogosphere, along with elected legislators abetted by the President of the United States, calling for charges of treason and prosecution against the press, essentially for repeating what everyone pretty much knew we already did. Of course, a lot of this anger stems from earlier reports of highly highly anti-liberal conduct such as illegal domestic spying and our black sites/ghost renditions in Eastern Europe. As if that weren’t enough, the Senate came one vote shy of approving a flag-burning amendment that would have put America in the same exclusive club as China, Cuba, and Iran. (The historical regime that shall not be named also banned flag desecration.)

That’s just this week. On top of that, we’ve seen the implementation and cheerleading for torture. We’ve seen signing statements and unitary executive theories and other vast expansions (both practical and theoretical) of presidential power. We’ve seen Gitmo and military tribunals. We’ve seen the relentless assault on the sexual freedom of women regarding not just abortion (even following rape), but the right to contraception. And let’s not forget about the assault on gays and Mr. Schiavo.

All of these are more than just political disagreements about taxes or racial policies. They are different in kind in that they are attacks on liberalism itself — i.e., on the idea of individual freedom and the civil liberties/rule of law principles that logically follow from that foundation.

And here’s what I’m getting at — in the face of what we’ve seen, to treat both sides as equally bad or partisan just doesn’t make sense. I’m no big fan of the modern Democratic Party, but their badness isn’t even in the same solar system.


If you look out over the landscape and think that both sides are equally bad and that the answer is somewhere in the middle, then you aren’t looking very closely. In fact, you’re not looking at all. You’re letting a pre-existing concept (the vanity of your own conspicuous centrism and bipartisan goodness) warp your perceptions of reality.

This reminds me of one of the reasons that I don't post here, or on the e-mail discussion group I've been a member of for 10 years, as often as I once did: because even as more and more is revealed about the treachery, malfeasance, corruption, immorality and irrationality of The Right, I've lost the ability to maintain the requisite necessary level of outrage.

I know that's a bad thing, I know that I should continue to be affronted and insulted by the unconscionable behavior of the Bush-Cheney administration, the leaders of the Republican party, and their supporters, but I just can't seem to do it, because almost nothing that comes out surprises me in the least. I've already come to the conclusion that they're capable of doing and saying anything that will promote their agenda and provide aid and comfort to corporate interests and the rich (and occasionally, as a sop, to their evangelical and fundamentalist dupes), so it's difficult for me to work up the energy to be properly outraged.

Instead, my reaction is fairly often "Of course" or "What did you expect from these jerks anyway?", and about the best I can muster by way of response is often "Idiots" or "Asshole" or something similar, which doesn't really rise to the level of rational discourse, and hardly makes for interesting blog material.

So, I admit it, decades of this kind of behavior from The Right, getting steadily worse and worse over the years as they became more and more powerful, but increasing exponentially with the illegitimate takeover of the White House by Bush in 2000, has pretty much ground me down. I thought that blogging would help somewhat, giving me an outlet to help shape my reactions and vent my emotions -- the conventional blogquote being that "it's better than shouting back at the TV" -- but instead, by continuing to focus me on political issues, when I might otherwise have just switched off politics entirely in an effort to find some kind of emotional peace, it may have contributed to my current state of cynically jaded satiation. (And blogging is only better than shouting at the TV if one has a sense that someone's listening, which is increasingly not the case with unfutz as it sinks slowly through the tail of the blogosphere.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/28/2006 02:13:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Pay or play

Stating the obvious, if a President doesn't think a law should be put into effect, his only Constitutional choice is to veto the law. Signing the law and then ignoring it or refusing to enforce it or altering it, sometimes beyond recognition, with "signing statements", isn't an available option.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/28/2006 01:56:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



I have never understood why anyone would want to be a member of the Rent Guidelines Board here in the New York City -- that's the body that determines the annual rent increases for the city's rent stabilized apartments (including mine), and footage of its very contentious public meetings is a regular feature of local newscasts around this time of year. The members, who are all appointed by the mayor, are paid a nominal amount (members can receive up to $2500 a year, the chairperson up to $6250), but they have to put up with acrimony and abuse from both tenants and landlords, and scenes like this from last night's final public meeting:
Hundreds of angry tenants shook noisemakers, waved signs and shouted their dismay last night as the Rent Guidelines Board approved middle-range rent increases for 1 million rent-stabilized apartments.

The vote was 5 to 4 for a 4.25% hike on one-year leases and 7.25% on two-year leases. The increases take effect Oct. 1.

Board Chairman Marvin Markus had to shout the increase proposal onto the record amid the thunderous clatter that filled the Great Hall at Cooper Union.

Although Markus called a three-hour recess in hopes of calming things down, it didn't work.

The crowd of 500 came back chanting "Home rule now" and "Shame on you," forcing cops to set up a protective wall between tenants and board members.

When it was all over, Markus said, "We had a raucous crowd, but we got our business done. Actually the process this year was fairly tame until tonight."

But neither tenants nor landlords were happy with the board's work. [NYDN]

New York TimesAs usual, tenants think the increase is too much, and landlords think it's not enough, but, generally speaking, a quick computation shows that the board hasn't done all that badly at simply keeping up with inflation -- using constant dollars, my own rent is currently only about 2% higher than it was 26 years ago.

There are other issues, though, as indicated by this in the Times:

The rent-increase vote comes at a time of growing concern about the ability of the middle class to afford to live in New York City. This month, researchers at New York University released a report finding that the number of apartments considered affordable to hundreds of thousands of moderate-income households, like those of starting firefighters and police officers, had plunged by nearly a fifth from 2002 to 2005.

"We are trying to let them know that we can't afford these increases," said Milagros Cruz, a teachers' aide from Washington Heights [...] "We're working hard but it's too much." [NYT]
Rents here are much higher than the national average -- I pay over $1600 per month for a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan, and that's pretty cheap compared to equivalent non-stabilized apartments in my building.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/28/2006 05:18:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Gladwell's CEO error

Malcolm Gladwell runs across an interesting fact:
[I]n 1949, the highest paid CEO in America was Charlie Wilson of General Motors, who earned $586,100 in salary, bonus and stock. That's roughly equivalent to what some of the better-compensated CEO's are making today.

But what did Wilson pay in taxes? $430,350.

Times have changed.

That's a tax rate of 73% (the mere expression of which just caused heart attacks among the Republicans' biggest benefactors) so Gladwell is certainly correct that times have changed in that respect.

However, to say that Wilson's paltry half-million is "roughly equivalent to some of the better-compensated CEO's are making today" is ridiculously incorrect. According to this calculator, $586,100 in 1949 dollars is equal to a little over $4,940,000 in 2005 dollars, and this Forbes slide show lists the 10 biggest CEO paycheck for 2005:

1.  Richard D. Fairbank  Capital One Financial $249.42 million
2. Terry S. Semel Yahoo 230.55 million
3. Henry R. Silverman Cendant 139.96 million
4. Bruce Karatz KB Home 135.53 million
5. Richard S. Feld Jr. Lehman Bros. Holdings 122.67 million
6. Ray R. Irani Occidental Petroleum 80.73 million
7. Lawrence J. Ellison Oracle 75.33 million
8. John W. Thompson Symantec 71.84 million
9. Edwin M. Crawford Caremark Rx 69.66 million
10. Angelo R. Mozilo Countrywide Financial 68.95 million

In the company of these guys, Charlie Wilson's under $5 million isn't even in the same ballpark.

How could Gladwell have been so wrong?

Addenda: In 1949, the marginal tax rate for those earning more than $400,000 was 82.13%, "subject to a maximum effective rate limitation equal to 77% of statutory 'net income.'" Today, the top rate is 35%.

Incidentally, according to United For A Fair Economy:

In 2004, average total compensation for CEOs of 367 leading US corporations was $11.8 million, up from $8.1 million in 2003.

The ratio of CEO pay to average production worker pay increased from 301-to-1 in 2003 to 431-to-1 in 2004. While this is still smaller than the 2000 peak of 525-to-1, it is more than 10 times as large as the 1982 ratio of 42-to-1. Moreover, the gap has widened sharply in the past two years, as executives have moved to cash in stock options.

If the average pay of workers had risen at the same rate as CEO pay, it would have been $110,000 in 2004, instead of $27,000, and if the minimum wage had risen at a similar rate, it would be $23.03 instead of $5.15.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/28/2006 03:09:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Containing the danger in ports

For those who may have missed it, there was a long and interesting article on port security by William Finnegan in The New Yorker recently:
The trashed, teemingly industrialized landscape around the major container terminals in Elizabeth and Port Newark is perhaps the most critical couple of miles in the entire American transportation system. It includes the New Jersey Turnpike, Newark airport, and so many gas and oil and chemical storage tanks that it is known as the Chemical Coast, all within easy striking distance of the piers. And then, of course, there’s Manhattan. National-security analysts estimate that if a terrorist attack closed New York Harbor in winter New England and upstate New York would run out of heating fuel within ten days. Even temporarily hampering the port’s operations would have immeasurable cascading effects.


If there is any one person in charge of the Port of New York and New Jersey, it is Glenn Wiltshire, United States Coast Guard, the Captain of the Port. From his command center, at Fort Wadsworth, on Staten Island, he surveys the waterside for problems, emergencies, threats. [...] "For certain vessels, we’ll put a boarding team aboard and, beyond the security exam, we’ll leave a team on board to watch the control spaces as the ship is coming in," he said. The Coast Guard calls these "ships of concern." "We want to make sure that nothing untoward is coming. There are three main possibilities. One, the ship is carrying the weapon. Two, the ship is the weapon. Three, the ship is carrying the people who intend an attack."

I asked how a ship might be a weapon.

"It could be a loaded oil tanker, intended to be used as a bomb, or to take down a bridge. Or maybe a bad guy plans to sink a ship in the middle of Kill Van Kull. That would stop about eighty per cent of our container traffic," Captain Wiltshire said. "We’re also on the lookout for a U.S.S. Cole-type attack." He was referring to the Al Qaeda attack, in 2000, in Yemen, by a bomb-filled dinghy against a Navy destroyer, which killed seventeen American sailors.


The tension between security and commerce is inescapable. Last month, the Times reported that some Coast Guard commanders, heeding complaints from big shippers about costly delays, have been warning some ships about what are supposed to be random inspections. According to the Times, this practice (which seems to be common in Los Angeles and Long Beach, though not, apparently, in the Port of New York and New Jersey) was condoned by the Coast Guard’s top command in Washington.


There are a hundred and twenty thousand merchant ships at work today. American intelligence agencies have estimated that Al Qaeda owns or controls as many as fifty. The explosives used to destroy the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1998, were delivered to East Africa on an Al Qaeda ship. But it is impossible to trace ship ownership and registration with much accuracy. As a U.S. official told the Washington Post, "You can’t swing a dead cat in the shipping business without hitting somebody with phony papers." There are more than a million seafarers at work, and most come from poor countries—Indonesia, China, the Philippines. The opportunities for terrorist operatives to move by sea under false identities are effectively endless. The most glaring vulnerability in maritime security, however, is the container.

In 1955, a North Carolina trucking-company owner named Malcom McLean invented the modern cargo container. Today, ninety per cent of world shipping moves by container. (McLean’s company, Sea-Land, was sold to a Danish company, Maersk, in 1999.) Since 2002, a program known as the Container Security Initiative requires our main trading partners to send to U.S. Customs and Border Protection an electronic manifest for every U.S.-bound container twenty-four hours before it is loaded on a ship. Customs, if it notices anything alarming, may ask the foreign port to inspect the container’s contents, or refuse it. This program covers almost eighty per cent of all U.S.-bound ocean-borne cargo. There is also a voluntary, public-private initiative, established in late 2001, called the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism, or C.-T.PAT, in which companies agree to have their security procedures vetted by U.S. authorities, in exchange for expedited handling of their business—the green lane. More than six thousand firms have been accepted into C.-T.PAT, including all the big American importers. Forty-five per cent of U.S. imports now pass through the green lane.

These systems are far from foolproof. The information on cargo manifests is routinely vague, incomplete, or wrong, and foreign ports are generally expected to purchase their own radiation-detection systems, which are expensive. Spot checks by American officials at a number of ports have not been reassuring. A Department of Homeland Security study leaked in March found opportunities, all along the cargo corridor—in American and foreign ports—"that would enable unmanifested material or weapons of mass destruction to be introduced into the supply chain."

In September, 2003, an investigative team at ABC News shipped fifteen pounds of depleted uranium from Jakarta to Los Angeles in a container full of furniture. Customs agents in Los Angeles targeted the container for screening—something that happens to less than seven per cent of all arriving containers. The container passed, and entered the country unopened. Depleted uranium is relatively harmless, and legal to import, but it gives off a radiation signature very similar to that of the highly enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons. "If they can’t detect that, then they can’t detect the real thing," a nuclear physicist told journalists.


The largest American importer by far is Wal-Mart. Last year, it brought seven hundred thousand container units through the green lane into the country. The rise of the big-box retailers, with their global network of suppliers, has caused a shift in power in the international shipping business away from the steamship lines and terminal operators, and toward the importers. What is more, companies like Wal-Mart have been actively working against stronger port- and containersecurity laws since shortly after the September 11th terror attacks. The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a Washington lobby dominated by Wal-Mart, actually boasted, in a 2005 report to its members, about its "continued industry leadership in opposition to ill-advised and onerous port security measures (i.e. cargo fees, increased physical inspections)."

I'm so glad that Wal-Mart's massive profits come as the expense of keeping up secure from terrorism.

There's a lot more of interest in the article, so take a look.

Ed Fitzgerald | 6/25/2006 10:07:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


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